President Bush's stated intention in going to war was to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis. Under the leadership of its dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq had invaded the small Gulf emirate of Kuwait in August 1990. The response of the international community was one of condemnation, and the United Nations Security Council authorized an immediate package of economic sanctions against Iraq.
Kuwait had long been an important strategic ally of the United States. Though initially hesitant, President Bush eventually came to recognize that military action was the only way to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The emirate's vast oil wealth was an additional concern. With Hussein in control of Kuwait, he would effectively have potential access to something like 65% of the world's oil supply, which would send the price of oil soaring and put a severe strain on the international economy.
Bush's war aims were therefore limited to getting the Iraqis to withdraw from Kuwait and restoring its rightful ruler, the Emir, to power. The United States had painstakingly built up an international coalition in support of military action, and Bush knew that that coalition could only be held together if the aims of the Persian Gulf War remained limited. But as Allied forces advanced into Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, opponents of Saddam believed that they would soon be liberated from the dictator's brutal tyranny. Rebellions against Hussein broke out all over Iraq, but as they received no military support from the Allied forces they were easily crushed by the regime. Bush and his advisers figured that if what started out as a war of liberation turned into an attempt at regime change, then this would not only potentially break up the international coalition against Saddam, but also lead to countless additional casualties among American troops and their allies.